DIETRICH, Idaho — The parents of a Dietrich student have filed a $10 million lawsuit against the Dietrich School District, charging the school failed to protect their son from escalating racially-based harassment and assaults that culminated in the teen being brutally raped with a coat hanger by fellow members of the football team.
The victim, whose identity is not being released by KTVB, is black and has mental disabilities. His alleged attackers are white.
According to prosecutors, the sexual assault happened Oct. 23, 2015 in the high school locker room. The lawsuit describes one teammate pretending to offer the victim a hug, then holding him down as another boy inserted a coat hanger into his rectum. A third attacker then kicked the coat hanger several times, forcing it farther into the victim’s body and causing rectal injuries that required treatment at a hospital, lawyers say.
“The Plaintiff screamed and cried out but no staff member came to his assistance or even attempted to investigate the clamor from within the locker room,” attorneys R. Keith Roark and E. Lee Schlender wrote in the filing.
The attorney general’s office filed charges against three students in March after a months-long investigation. John R. K. Howard and Tanner Ward are both charged as adults with forcible sexual penetration, and could face up to life in prison if convicted. The third student is charged as a juvenile.
Lawyers say the night of the rape was not the first time the black student, who was adopted by a Dietrich family as a child, had been targeted.
According to the lawsuit, the 18-year-old victim was called names including “Kool-Aid,” “chicken-eater,” “watermelon” and the N-word by his football teammates beginning in the summer of 2015.
Howard also posted a confederate flag on the plaintiff’s computer and demanded he learn and recite a racist song titled “Moonman Notorious KKK,” which makes reference to lynching, according to the suit.
In addition to the school district, 11 employees or volunteers with the school are named in the lawsuit, including Superintendent Benjamin Hardcastle, Dietrich School Principal Stephanie Shaw and football coach Mike Torensen.
Roark and Schlender wrote in the filing that school officials turned a blind eye toward the behavior of Howard, who had moved to Idaho to live with relatives after getting into trouble in his home state of Texas.
“Mr. Howard is a relative of prominent individuals in the community and, at least in part due to his athletic ability and community connections, the Defendants ignored or were deliberately indifferent to the behavior of Mr. Howard, which included aggression, taunting and bullying of The Plaintiff and other students in the District,” the lawyers wrote.
In addition to the racial slurs, several football players made a habit of jumping on the victim’s back and “humping” him, especially during football practices, according to the suit, which also alleges team members gave the teen painful wedgies and drew a picture on a chalkboard of the plaintiff sitting in the back of a bus.
In late August, the plaintiff was forced to fistfight Howard as part of a “toughening up” portion of a football camp held on a farm in the Dietrich area before the football season started, attorneys say.
The victim was made to wear boxing gloves to face off against the much-larger Howard, who was bare-fisted, according to Roark and Schlender.
“Multiple times the Plaintiff was knocked down and finally knocked unconscious,” the suit reads. “The beating of the Plaintiff was accompanied by catcalls, taunts and racial epithets of the football players/students in full view of coaches, who not only failed to prevent the abuse, but actively promoted it.”
Another time, according to the lawsuit, the student was returning from a football game when other players pulled off his pants and shorts and took photos of him, while the coaches stood by.
The suit contends that the school district and defendants violated the Civil Rights Act and and the Equal Protection Clause by failing to intervene when the plaintiff was harassed and abused due to his race and mental status.
Howard is due back in court for a preliminary hearing June 10. The cases against the other two defendants are sealed.
The Dietrich School District declined to comment on individual students or the pending litigation.
(Article by Katie Terhune, KTVB)